Congressional Republicans are again pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood based on allegations stemming from a debunked anti-choice propaganda campaign launched in 2015.
The latest move occurred Tuesday during a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sessions traveled to Capitol Hill to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which split along party lines over Sessions’ changing account of what he did and didn’t know about the Trump presidential campaign’s ties to Russia. Enter Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a vocal proponent of racially biased anti-abortion myths. Franks followed up on the Hill newspaper’s Monday report that relied on “sources,” without any further attribution, claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) asked the U.S. Senate for unredacted documents obtained from abortion care providers.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last year directed his staff on the powerful committee, now known for rubber-stamping President Trump’s far-right judicial nominations, to investigate discredited claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. Republicans’ subsequent 547-page report failed to provide evidence substantiating those claims, but that didn’t stop Grassley from asking the Obama-era U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute the targeted Planned Parenthood affiliates and tissue procurement companies. Grassley in April resurrected his request with Sessions’ DOJ, which includes oversight of the FBI.
Back in the House Judiciary Committee, Franks asked Sessions if, “generally speaking, are findings made by any Senate investigation, any subsequent referral, sufficient evidence for the Justice Department to bring charges up on any party guilty of violating federal law?”
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“Well, it depends on the substance of those congressional findings, but they certainly can provide a basis for starting an investigation, to verifying the findings of the Congress, and could provide a basis for charges,” Sessions replied. “I think that’s an appropriate way for us to relate to one another.”
“Well, I hope the Justice Department obviously will take a very close look at the evidence that the Senate is providing to the FBI,” Franks said.
The Hill‘s story on Monday and Franks’ questioning on Tuesday each quickly circulated on anti-choice social media, including mentions from the head of the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which coordinated its propaganda campaign with GOP lawmakers.
BREAKING: Jeff Sessions confirms to @RepTrentFranks that @senjudiciary criminal referrals of @PPact can be basis for @TheJusticeDept prosecution, after @FBI obtains documents and confirms SJC findings #PPSellsBabyParts #SessionsHearinghttps://t.co/nLO33l0hML
— David Daleiden (@daviddaleiden) November 14, 2017
Operation Rescue, a radical anti-abortion group that has long pushed violent rhetoric, used Sessions’ answer to fuel the allegations against Planned Parenthood, even though three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury have disproved them. The litany doesn’t count Grassley’s staff-level investigation and the House’s so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which concluded in January with a similar baseless report echoing the CMP smear campaign that first made the allegations.
But Operation Rescue has reason to be hopeful, given Sessions’ opposition to a broad range of rights, including access to abortion care. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue’s president and a CMP ally, cheered Sessions’ nomination last November. Anti-choice protesters have mobilized in an effort to dare Sessions to enforce federal law designed to protect access to abortion clinics.
Grassley in October used a separate Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to ask Sessions about the status of his criminal referrals.
Sessions to Grassley: “I will evaluate your request personally and make sure its promptly and properly handled.” https://t.co/EYqWvMnIPs
— Christine Grimaldi (@chgrimaldi) October 18, 2017
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) condemned the most recent partisan outcry against the organization.
“Planned Parenthood has never, and would never, profit while facilitating its patients’ choice to donate fetal tissue for use in important medical research,” PPFA Vice President of Government Affairs Dana Singiser said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood strongly disagrees with the recommendations of the Senate Republican staff to refer this matter to the Justice Department.”